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Reading First Impact Study

Contract Information

Current Status:

This study has been completed.


October 2003 – March 2009



Contract Number:



Abt Associates
RMC Research


The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 created the Reading First program to help ensure that all students can read at or above grade level by the end of third grade. The program was funded at $393 million in Fiscal Year 2008 and targeted low-income, low-performing schools. This evaluation was conducted in response to Reading First's legislation requiring that the U.S. Department of Education contract with an independent organization for a "rigorous, scientifically valid, and quantitative" evaluation of the program.

  • What was the impact of the Reading First program on student reading achievement?
  • What was the impact of Reading First on classroom instruction?
  • What was the relationship between the degree of implementation of scientifically-based reading instruction and student reading achievement?

This evaluation included districts that used a quantifiable rating/ranking process to choose which schools received Reading First funding. Using regression discontinuity methods, the evaluation compared reading outcomes in schools scoring above the cutoff point for funding (Reading First schools) with reading outcomes in schools scoring below the cutoff point (non-Reading First schools).

The evaluation included about 125 Reading First schools and 125 non-Reading First schools, collecting data over a three-year period (2004–2005 through 2006–2007). Data collection included direct student assessments in reading comprehension (grades one through three) and decoding (grade one in spring 2007), and observations of classroom reading instruction in grades one and two.

  • Reading First had a statistically significant positive impact on multiple practices promoted by the program, including the amount of instructional time spent on the five essential components of reading instruction (phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension) and professional development in scientifically based reading instruction.
  • Reading First did not produce a statistically significant impact on student reading comprehension test scores in grades one, two, or three.
  • Reading First had a statistically significant positive impact on first graders' decoding skills in Spring 2007.

The final report, titled Reading First Impact Study: Final Report, was released in November 2008.

The interim report, titled Reading First Impact Study: Interim Report, was released in April 2008.

A restricted-use file containing de-identified data is available for the purposes of replicating study findings and secondary analysis.